- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 19, 2001

Kevin Lunsford places his hand palm down on the hive and lets the bees walk slowly up and down his forearm. He laughs at the people around him who panic at the sight of four or five bees that escaped from it. In his Bealeton, Va., farm — where he owns 100 hives — he never uses any masks or gloves to manipulate the hives. He doesnt understand why so many people are afraid of them.
"They are nice, they are not mean. Unless you shake or bump the hive, they wont attack you," he says.
Mr. Lunsford, who was appointed last Tuesday as beekeeper of the National Zoo, will explain how bees help gardening and farming at the Friends of the National Arboretum (FONA) fair.
The 10th Garden Fair and Plant Sale, to be held on the grounds of the National Arboretum this Saturday, Earth Day, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., will give gardeners a chance to buy plants and explore new Earth-friendly ideas and alternatives to traditional fungicides and insecticides.
Bugs will occupy a prominent place in this years garden fair. Ladybugs, whose diet consists of the aphids and scale insects that infest garden plants, will be for sale for the first time at the National Arboretum.
"Ladybugs are natural predators," says Jessica Bavinger, National Arboretum consultant and FONA Garden Fair coordinator. Ms. Bavinger is proud of these cute bugs, which in her view are perfect for the maintenance of the garden.
"They eat everything that is smaller than them," Ms. Bavinger says. "The only problem is that when they have finished their job they will fly away. That is why people complain about them."
Gardeners can buy a cup of 50 to 100 ladybugs at the fair for $8.
James Locke, National Arboretum plant pathologist, recommends that gardeners use neem oil, a botanical pesticide extracted from the seed of the East Indian neem tree. Neem oil will also be on display at the fair.
Whereas most synthetic pesticides are toxic to bees and other beneficial insects, neem oil is safe for animals and protects flowers and vegetables, says Mr. Locke.

In Mr. Lockes opinion, people are becoming more and more aware of the use of natural pesticides. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is also moving in that direction, he says.
"Products that have been labeled for years are been withdrawn from the market. There is more and more room for these alternatives," Mr. Locke says.
The alternatives grow rapidly, and so does the business of horticulture. Americans are buying record numbers of bedding and garden plants, potted flowering plans, foliage plants, cut flowers and cut cultivated greens, according to FONA.
FONA quotes the 1998 Census of Horticulture Specialties, conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. According to this census, retail expenditures for all green-industry products reached $32.2 billion, or $140 per person, in 1998. Last year, more than $100,000 worth of plants were sold at FONAs annual sale.
Another Earth-friendly idea featured at this years fair is soil testing. Gardeners buy a kit for $6.50 and then send a sample of their soil to be analyzed in a laboratory to learn if there is anything harmful to plants in the soil.

The garden fair will not only try to convince people to use more Earth-friendly alternatives but make it an educational experience as well.
For instance: Most people dont know that one-third of the food produced in the country depends on honey bees. Fruits such as oranges, apples and cranberries, have to be pollinated, either directly or through cross pollination, Mr. Lunsford says. "It takes bees nine visits to a watermelon plant to make a watermelon fruit," he says. When we find a white seed in a watermelon, that means that the seed was not pollinated.
"Most kids never saw honey bees in their lives," says Mr. Lunsford, who worked as a paramedic for 20 years in Virginia before deciding to make a living out of his hobby — together with his wife, Cindy, who also works on the farm
"The children stop by the hive and say, 'These are not honeybees; they are too small. But of course they are. They get no bigger than this," he says, pointing out the observation hive that will be displayed Saturday.
In this transparent hive, which has to be kept at 90 degrees, the queen bee is marked with white ink, following an international regulation that ties the last numeral to the color marked on the queens. Next year, for instance, the queen bees will be marked with yellow ink, the color corresponding to number 2.
Beekeepers need to mark queen bees in order to know how old they are because they are replaced every two years. Queen bees can live up to five years, but the peak of their production (2,000 eggs a day) slows down after the first two.
According to Mr. Lunsford, there were about 90,000 hives in Virginia 10 years ago, but now there are just about 30,000. Beekeeping is not being passed on from parents to children, he says.
"Virginia is importing bees from other states just to do the apple crops," says Mr. Lunsford.
Then he tells his favorite anecdote, one about an experiment with bees aboard a space shuttle mission a couple of years ago.
"They wanted to see if the bees would be able to make wax and the bees did it perfectly. The scientists still cant understand how could they make it perfectly hexagonal. They even decided which way was down."

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